How to Choose the Best Massage School for You

Choosing a Massage School

There are many factors to consider when choosing a massage school.  You will want to find the best blend of being close to home, while providing you the best education possible.  You will also want one that will give you the most support in finding a job or creating your own business.

  • Prerequisites to massage school.  In most states there aren’t many prerequisites except for being 18 years of age. 
  • Cost of massage school .  School will cost you anywhere from $6,000-$30,000.  The cost does not necessarily reflect the quality of education.  You have to compare everything carefully and figure out how much you will make so you can pay back loans or be sure that you will be able to make a living after getting your massage licensing.
  • How many hours of education do you need? Hours of education are determined by the laws in each state.  The number of hours varies from 250 hours to 1000 hours.  The best schools will have at least 625 hours which was the minimum number of hours that was determined would be needed to be an ENTRY level therapist.  (See: Entry Level Analysis Project).  It is not only the number of hours but what you learn. Massage therapy competencies are outlined in the ELAP. There are still a few states that do not regulate massage therapists so no schooling is required, but you won’t get far without proper training.
  • Proprietary, Corporate, Career Institutes, Colleges.

    Proprietary schools are individually owned and often called ‘mom and pop’ schools.  They are often owned by massage therapists themselves.

    Corporate schools are just that – big corporations that own massage schools. An example is Cortiva Institutes which has a long history of being bought and sold. As of June 2019, many locations are going out of business. Stiener Education currently owns them. Steiner Leisure owns Steiner Education.  Steiner Leisure owns many spas on cruise ships and around the country. Stenier Leisure was bought by L. Catterton who also owns a bunch of other companies ….well you get the picture.  They often have a few campuses around the US. Most are accredited by U.S. Department of Education.

    Career Institutes/Schools are separate institutions that offer programs in massage therapy as well as programs in other skilled trades, applied sciences, modern technologies, and career preparation.

    Colleges.  Community College, Junior College or technical college. Some community colleges run by the state will offer 2 year degrees in massage therapy.  I only know of one school that offers a BA in massage therapy.
  • Licensing and Certification.  Licensing is different from certification.  Each state has different requirements for licensing and specific laws you must follow. States that have state licensing requirements will also have a State Board of Massage that will oversee the licensing process. You will need to be familiar with the rules and laws in whatever state you want to be licensed in. Your school will help you with the details. You will get a certificate of completion from your massage school that will be given to the board of massage to complete the licensing process. (There are still a few states that do not require licensing.)

    Certification is not the same as licensing.  You can be certified in various types of massage therapy like lymphatic drainage, triggerpoint therapy, cranio-sacral therapy, but it has no bearing what so ever on licensing.  There are a few states that have exemptions for specific types of massage/bodywork like Rolfing, Reflexology and others.  Check with your state board of massage. Certifications are given by agencies set up to give formal Certifications.
  • Accreditation – Do you have to go to an accredited massage school?  NO.  Accreditation is a voluntary process for massage schools.  Schools will pay a hefty fee to become accredited with special agencies. The massage school went through extra steps to have their school program and curriculum scrutinized by agencies who have specific requirements. There are a few different agencies that accredit massage schools and others that accredit vocational schools.  Schools that offer federal financial aid are accredited.  Accreditation does not mean that you can move to any state you want without further education or fees.
    See the list of various types of accrediting agencies and their roles.

     To learn more about accreditation see also: Choose Wisely: the Quality of Massage Education in the United States. Martha Brown Menard, PhD, LMT

    “Purpose: This study evaluated the quality of massage education in the United States using three closely-related questions to frame the evaluation: 1) Is accreditation improving the quality of education for massage therapy? If not, then what do we need to do to improve it? 2) Does accreditation by COMTA specifically improve quality of education compared to other vocational accrediting agencies that do not require curriculum competencies specific to massage? 3) Would adding competencies at an “advanced” level, or specific degree levels, be helpful in advancing massage therapy in the eyes of other health professions?”
  • Curriculum – What you will be learning.  College level anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology, massage theory and techniques, injury treatments, ethics, and more.  In massage school, you will learn by massaging each other in a classroom.  Basic palpation skills are taught as well as basic movements. You will learn about the therapeutic relationship in massage that is the basis for creating a safe space. You will learn to assess clients conditions and learn how to document your treatments.  Many states are moving toward being accepted by health insurance, so you will be learning how to bill and deal with insurance companies. You will have to learn to adapt to all sorts of client situations and health conditions.  It is not just about massage.  You need a strong background in science and critical thinking.

The right fit for you!

Schools will often have a specific focus of their educational programs and focus on one or more areas of massage therapy such as a clinical (rehab/hospital) based curriculum or have a more wellness/relaxation massage focus. The clinical side will require more education in technical skills and require a more in-depth education in anatomy and physiology. The wellness/relaxation model will require other training in spa therapies such as body wraps, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy treatments and body scrubs.

Many schools will also ask about your learning style which means knowing what method is easiest for you to learn things – like do you learn better when you see things, hear things, touch things or whether you learn better on your own or in groups. Most schools will be able to help you learn in the style that works best for you.